Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
2 mins read

Podcasts: How the Financial Times is using storytelling for subscriber growth

The Financial Times has 12 ongoing podcasts of which the FT News podcast has reached a user base of 1 million per month. Its audio listeners consist of approximately 60% millennials, and 60% non-subscribers.

The FT is looking into taking the audio route to convert them into paying subscribers. To that end, the publisher recently launched a couple of new podcasts designed to produce greater engagement with listeners through innovative audio storytelling formats.  

Ready pool of engaged users

According to the FT’s Head of Audio for Commercial, Alastair Mackie, “These (the millennials) are hard to reach people who are already quite engaged in FT content. They spend 20 or 30 minutes a day with our journalism.

One of the challenges subscriptions businesses have is to engage people to the point where they convert. So to have a fertile hunting ground of highly engaged people, many of whom listen to 70-80% of the podcasts, is good.  There is a big opportunity in using it to drive subscriptions.”

The FT also found that as voice assistant platforms improved, podcast listens from smart speakers has jumped from nothing to 15%. Additionally, an internal research revealed that about 20% of its audience used smart speakers. Taking a cue from that, they have recently launched two new podcasts designed for smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home, but also accessible through smartphones.  

An innovative storytelling format

Hidden Cities’ is one of the new shows. The city chosen for the current run is Berlin. The show lets listeners explore everything about Berlin. They can even listen to interviews with Berliners highlighting the city’s cultural nuances.

Listeners can interact with smart speakers through questions prompted by the narrator. Based on their choices they are directed to different audio files. The feature is spread across the FT’s media, spanning its online content, including an interactive Berlin map and a pullout in the accompanying FT Weekend.

Forming habits around content is key to any subscription offering.

FT would be closely studying listeners’ activity and using the data to inform future stories. Once they have an understanding of how listeners convert, they would optimize the user journey to provide something smarter than a link to a standard sales page.

So for example, when someone visits the website after listening to a show on say, politics, they directly arrive on a page that shows them related content on politics, suggested shows, hosts’ background and the subscriptions they can buy.

“A smart acquisition strategy”

According to Joseph Evans, a senior research analyst at Enders. “This is a smart acquisition strategy. The paper is getting into the news consumption routine of its listeners, in a high-attention context where it can demonstrate the authority of its journalists. Forming habits around content is key to any subscription offering.”

However, by themselves, podcasts may not be enough to boost subscriptions. Publishers planning to take the audio route to boost subscriptions should consider creating an enticing package. Perhaps a combination that includes podcasts, audio versions of articles, and flash briefings; that is more likely to attract new subscribers as well reduce churn for existing ones.